The biggest roadblock to Jesus is some of the people who say they love him. That’s not a slam or an opinion: just a fact. Investigating the Christian faith is always mysterious (John 3:8,) but it can become unbearably difficult when I encounter church people who seem just as conflicted and unkind as my irreligious friends. The deficiency here is not that the Jesus Christ does not transform believers. Rather, it appears that many church people have completely missed the core truths of his Gospel. Let me share just a few examples of truths that could transform:
- Free is not the same as Easy. One of the axioms of church life, at least in Protestant circles, is that Eternal Life is a free gift. Without a doubt, that’s the promise of texts like Romans 6:23. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” There’s no dispute there. But could we please be rational and take off our religious blinders for a moment?
If someone gives you a magnificent new home as a gift, you have certainly experienced an act of extraordinary generosity. But once you accept that profound gift, there will be significant costs to home ownership. Your house will need cleaning and upkeep. It will require regular maintenance and repair. You will consequently need to do things and spend resources to care for the home you’ve been graciously given, and that will continue for the rest of your life there. It’s expensive maintaining a home, not to mention a temple.
If somebody offers you a free lifetime membership at a first-class gym, the membership card will not instantly make you healthy and fit. Rather, accepting a gym membership indicates that you are willing to frequent that health center to run, lift and sweat until you tighten things up in your physique. And once you accomplish a higher level of fitness, you’ll need to work hard to maintain it the rest of your life. Belonging to a gym is about possibilities: making the most of a gym is about commitment and perspiration.
I believe this explains why some of us in the church seem so insincere and superficial to our unbelieving friends, neighbors and co-workers. What if I have settled for the dim religion of accepting a few esoteric spiritual ideas in my head? Even the most irreligious people around me know intuitively that any sort of faith that does not increasingly make me more compassionate, more upright, and more righteous has nothing to do with that radical Lord of Life we call Jesus! They simply conclude I’m a phony; a wannabe; a hypocrite.
That’s why we cross a dangerous red line when we cite Romans 6:23, invite people to trust Jesus, and then suggest that it’s easy: one more idea to accept, a simple decision for a Sunday morning. Here’s what Jesus said about that faith-decision: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28) In context, the costs Christ has in mind are the consequences of carrying a cross for the rest of your life.
Eternal life does not rise or fall with the expectation that I will show up in worship on occasional Sundays. Rather, the qualifying condition of true, New Testament faith is the willingness to be changed, to conform to the culture of a new kingdom. It’s the absolute conviction that the Almighty God of Creation will make regular demands on my fragile mortal life is I am to walk with him by faith.
Don’t get tied in knots here: lasting, life transformation is indeed something only the power of God can accomplish. But men and women awaiting that transformation must expect to confess their sins, to practice patience, to endure, to adapt to new patterns Christ sets before us, and to avoid temptation to return to those dead old habits in the future. This is the hard part of accepting the free Gift of Life from Christ: it is the presumption that I hate my sins and am desperate to escape them: not simply to limit or conceal them.
I’ll share more overlooked core truths the next time we’re together. In the meantime, let’s be willing to bear the cost of lifting up the Cross! This conviction alone would transform the American Church. Thoughts?